Kate Shanahan, a Dubai mother of three, produces the blog mothersontheverge in partnership with a friend in New York.
Kate Shanahan, a Dubai mother of three, produces the blog mothersontheverge in partnership with a friend in New York.

How blogging provides a creative outlet for mothers in the UAE



"'Having it all' is a concept I can't even begin to contemplate. 'Having a clue' would be a good start. Because if I don't want to be a full-time mum, I don't want to go back to full-time work, I don't want to have another baby and I don't want to sit around doing nothing, then I ask you, WHAT THE HELL DO I WANT TO DO?!"

Thus posted the Dubai-based blogger of wheresmyrubyslippers.wordpress.com recently about her conflicting thoughts on motherhood and self-fulfillment. To some, her very middle-class quandary - at least she has the choice - is one with which they will struggle to empathise. But to many women like her - bright, accomplished but frustrated, rinsing baby sick out of their hair and lamenting the loss of their identity - her frank admission will strike a chord.

Increasingly, the internet is full of these women, dubbed, rather unfairly, "mummy bloggers", who have taken to the blogosphere as a way of reaching beyond the playroom walls. Partly it may be the cloak of anonymity that appeals: the potential for creative expression or access to a community of "listeners".

Either way, the domestic realm is, it seems, fertile ground for bloggers. The UK's biggest online parenting forum, Mumsnet, recently launched a Bloggers' Network, boasting around 500 members. Netmums, a similar site, provides access to a further 1,000.

In the UAE, a quick Google search reveals scores of blogs by women, many of them living away from their home countries. Some were started as a way of keeping friends and family in the loop with their news, while others provide their authors, who may have put their careers on hold to have a family or to follow a husband abroad, with a creative outlet of their own.

"It can be quite an isolating experience, especially for those with very young children," says Kate Shanahan, a mother of three who lives in Dubai and started the blog mothersontheverge.blogspot.com with a friend in 2005. "Blogging is a way of being connected to the outside world, of having an opportunity to be heard, and just sharing."

Shanahan's blog, a wry and often hilarious take on family life from two perspectives (hers from Dubai and her co-blogger Lauren's from New York), was started, she says, before blogging was fashionable. "People just did not understand," she says. "They would say, 'Why would you want to air your dirty laundry in public or even write about that kind of boring stuff?' Now people understand and have really got into it."

Mothers on the Verge now attracts between 600 and 800 readers a week. "They come from everywhere," says Shanahan. "Last time I checked there were people from Korea and Taiwan."

From the start they had a clear idea about the intended tone of the blog. "We agreed that we didn't want to become typical mummy bloggers," she says, "which is basically boasting about how brilliant your children are. We love our children, but we're realistic. And we didn't want to write just about being parents because we're more than that. We're also professional women. There are more aspects to the female character than just being a mother. It would be a shame if that were your only identity."

Instead, Shanahan's Dubai Stereotypes series, in which she sends up some of the city's typical residents (examples are The Mummy Racer and The Ladies' Night Lurker) has attracted quite a following (she was even interviewed on Dubai Radio 92). What makes the blog so readable, though, is its combination of wit and sincerity: alongside Shanahan's caricatures are frank admissions about her past struggles with depression.

"I wrote about it on a very personal level," she says. "Some friends were shocked by that. But I had some really heartfelt emails from people about it and that made me feel really good."

Being only semi-anonymous, though ("I don't have my name on the blog but a couple of Google searches would be enough to find it") means there is a limit to how open she can be. "You have to have boundaries. I'm careful not to mention my husband too much. It's fine for me to write about my stuff and my personal feelings, but it's not OK to use the blog as a platform to talk about other people if they're not comfortable with it."

The blogger behind dubaihousewife.wordpress.com has no such concerns, since her online alter ego allows her to blog acerbically about the other mothers on the school run (there's Morally Outraged Mum, Alpha Mum, Fashionista Mum, etc) without fear of discovery. "We'd probably have to change schools if they were ever to find out my identity," she says.

And then there are the women who use blogging as a way of exploring their passion. For Sandy Bremner, a Dubai-based mother of one who writes gingerandscotch.com, it is food. "It's become a huge passion for me," she says. "I wake up in the morning thinking about what I'm going to write and what I'm going to cook. It's hard when you're a stay-at-home mum. You have that aspect of your life but I feel I need more than that." Ginger and Scotch now receives around 150 visitors a day.

In fact, such was the success of the blog following its rebrand in May (it started life in 2007 as Out and About in Dubai) that Bremner's husband started to get some big ideas. "He got so excited about it that he wanted to market me to the whole world and I was like, whoa, I'm not ready for that."

"Who are these women who can devote their lives to bringing up their children without a shadow of regret for the life they left behind?" It's not exactly glass-half-full stuff, but the woman is funny and painfully honest about her approach to motherhood.

A one-stop-shop for pithy observations on life in Dubai (and New York). These women are smart and witty. Oh, and they know a thing or two about raising children.

Her barbed observations of the dreaded school run are excellent. "It's a stamping ground that's full of real-life caricatures," she says. Come here for a spot of down-to-earth parenting.

A nicely presented blog detailing the author's culinary exploits, mostly reflecting her Chinese-American heritage. She cleverly combines recipes with stories about family life.

This family of five has recently moved to Abu Dhabi. Read about their attempts to adjust to a new home, new schools and a new culture. And then there's the weather.

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Company name: Namara
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Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.

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School counsellors on mental well-being

Schools counsellors in Abu Dhabi have put a number of provisions in place to help support pupils returning to the classroom next week.

Many children will resume in-person lessons for the first time in 10 months and parents previously raised concerns about the long-term effects of distance learning.

Schools leaders and counsellors said extra support will be offered to anyone that needs it. Additionally, heads of years will be on hand to offer advice or coping mechanisms to ease any concerns.

“Anxiety this time round has really spiralled, more so than from the first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Priya Mitchell, counsellor at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.

“Some have got used to being at home don’t want to go back, while others are desperate to get back.

“We have seen an increase in depressive symptoms, especially with older pupils, and self-harm is starting younger.

“It is worrying and has taught us how important it is that we prioritise mental well-being.”

Ms Mitchell said she was liaising more with heads of year so they can support and offer advice to pupils if the demand is there.

The school will also carry out mental well-being checks so they can pick up on any behavioural patterns and put interventions in place to help pupils.

At Raha International School, the well-being team has provided parents with assessment surveys to see how they can support students at home to transition back to school.

“They have created a Well-being Resource Bank that parents have access to on information on various domains of mental health for students and families,” a team member said.

“Our pastoral team have been working with students to help ease the transition and reduce anxiety that [pupils] may experience after some have been nearly a year off campus.

"Special secondary tutorial classes have also focused on preparing students for their return; going over new guidelines, expectations and daily schedules.”

Anxiety and work stress major factors

Anxiety, work stress and social isolation are all factors in the recogised rise in mental health problems.

A study UAE Ministry of Health researchers published in the summer also cited struggles with weight and illnesses as major contributors.

Its authors analysed a dozen separate UAE studies between 2007 and 2017. Prevalence was often higher in university students, women and in people on low incomes.

One showed 28 per cent of female students at a Dubai university reported symptoms linked to depression. Another in Al Ain found 22.2 per cent of students had depressive symptoms - five times the global average.

It said the country has made strides to address mental health problems but said: “Our review highlights the overall prevalence of depressive symptoms and depression, which may long have been overlooked."

Prof Samir Al Adawi, of the department of behavioural medicine at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, who was not involved in the study but is a recognised expert in the Gulf, said how mental health is discussed varies significantly between cultures and nationalities.

“The problem we have in the Gulf is the cross-cultural differences and how people articulate emotional distress," said Prof Al Adawi. 

“Someone will say that I have physical complaints rather than emotional complaints. This is the major problem with any discussion around depression."

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Favourite Quote: Prophet Mohammad's quotes There is reward for kindness to every living thing and A good man treats women with honour

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Favourite Book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Favourite food: Fish and vegetables

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